BUDGET TALK - Mayor Tara Veer discusses the details of this week’s provincial budget, and its impact on the City of Red Deer. Mark Weber/Red Deer Express

City responds to this year’s provincial budget

Local health and social infrastructure needs not met, officials say

This year’s budget continues municipal infrastructure for three more years, but falls short in the areas of health and social infrastructure, City officials say.

“The common theme from the City of Red Deer’s perspective and response to this budget, is that municipal infrastructure is retained but local health and social infrastructure needs are not fully met,” said Mayor Tara Veer.

The municipal infrastructure funding for three more years is welcome news, however.

“But it does not fully respond to our region’s request for health and social infrastructure,” she said, referring primarily to the pressing need for expansion at the Red Deer Regional Hospital.

The Province did direct $1 million to the Hospital, which will likely go towards a business plan for future expansion. That’s $1 million out of a total $4.6 billion set aside in capital health dollars.

“This is a small step in the right direction, but our community efforts are not yet finished because capital dollars for the expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital are not identified in the five-year plan,” said Veer.

”The study will likely recommend substantial funding, and we cannot wait five years for detailed planning or construction while we are in an emergency situation.

“Our local doctors have identified a crisis situation at the hospital.”

Veer said that it’s important to note that the $1 million is a small step, but a step in the right direction.

“But it’s important to identify that our community efforts are not finished, because capital dollars for the expansion of Red Deer Regional Hospital are not identified in the five-year plan. The (business) study, which is good news, will likely recommend substantial funding and we cannot wait five years for detailed planning or construction while we are in an emergency situation,” she said.

The Province is also investing in affordable housing with a commitment to 400 new units shared across eight communities, including Red Deer, said Veer.

The Province also referenced Red Deer College’s degree granting status although there were no specific dollars allocated.

Veer added that there are some unknowns from the budget that City staff will continue to watch for details on.

“Although the opioid crisis was mentioned, there is no capital funding identified for either a shelter or treatment centre in the Red Deer region,” she said.

She also pointed out that although there is bolstered funding for rural policing, there were no additional funds for urban policing mentioned.

“This increases a longstanding inequity for policing costs in our region,” she said. “I’d like to acknowledge that the Province decision to focus on rural crime will obviously help with the overall crime challenges in our region. We are acutely aware of the fact that crime is fluid and knows no borders. However, the Province’s decision to focus on rural crime is a challenge for urban municipalities because police funding is inequitable as it is.

“As major urban centres across the Province, we need to continue to focus on crime reduction – particularly in the case in Red Deer where crime is identified by our citizens as our community’s number one priority,” she said.

The Province did increase funding for the justice centre from $97 million to $181 million and spread this funding out until 2023. The project was initially announced in last year’s budget.

“We don’t have any specific details on that – it would likely be a question to defer to the provincial government. However, the zoning has gone through on the site and the Province has acquired the land. So we are pleased that they are following through on this project,” she said.

As to education, the amount of education requisition the City of Red Deer is required to collect on behalf of the Province will increase by 1.15% for 2018.

The impact on property tax notices will be calculated in April.

“On a go-forward basis, I would identify the following key areas for continued advocacy before the provincial government – of course…continued advocacy with respect to capital expansion and infrastructure needs for the Red Deer Regional hospital; to continue to address the urban/rural police funding inequity that is systemic across the Province.

“Also, the budget was silent with respect to revenue sharing on cannabis – in the federal budget, it was indicated that they would be allocating 75 per cent to go to the provinces.

“There is a strong expectation of municipalities that those dollars would flow through to us as we are the ones who are responsible for a significant portion of the regulation and enforcement with respect to cannabis.”

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